Heroes History: The Story of 323
“323” is one of the few memes that Heroes of the Storm can claim as its own. The number echoes the most unfortunate pause in the game’s young life. To this day, when a competitive game is paused, viewers will often spam “323” in the chat. For those new to Heroes esports, this is the story behind the number.
On September 20 2015, Cognitive Gaming was playing Cloud9 on stage at the Americas Championship in Las Vegas. While Cognitive didn’t have a winning record against Cloud9, they made it out of the group stage undefeated.
Cognitive’s group stage games were filled with style. Just watch this clip of Glaurung’s infamous Illidan play against Relics from Southeast Asia.
In the series against Cloud9, they were hopeful. A month or so before this event they had defeated C9 in a show match hosted by NVIDIA in Downtown San Jose at the AFK Gaming Lounge. The Gaming Lounge doubled as their gaming house, as they lived in the apartments above the business. After the win, there on home turf, in their minds it was possible that defeating C9 on LAN might be easier than winning against them online—a feat which they had been unable to accomplish thus far.
This was the biggest game of their lives up until this point. This single best-of-three meant going to BlizzCon. If they lost here they would have to return to their team house in San Jose and wonder if their sponsor was going to drop them, and where they would live after that. This series between Cognitive and Cloud9 was everything.
The first game in the best-of-three was going well. Cognitive navigated the narrow corridors of Tomb of the Spider Queen with ease, earning kill after kill and playing a near-perfect game of Heroes of the Storm. Nothing less would be sufficient to defeat the soon-to-be champions of BlizzCon 2015. Cognitive had momentum on their side.
The lights were flashing bright purple hues, the commanding voices of the shout casters could be heard bellowing throughout the venue, and the roar of the crowd with their thunder sticks was ever-present. Just as Cognitive pushed in on Cloud9’s Keep in the bottom lane with a two-level lead, everything went sideways. All action on the screen ceased, the observer had paused, dimming every light in the Nexus onscreen to an indecipherable grayscale.
In the video linked above you can see that after the game is paused, the chat box opens and the numbers 323 appear after a dozen or so spaces. This was the result of the observer backstage dropping his keyboard.
Somewhere in the crowd was one Jared "Zoia" Eggleston, the manager of Tempo Storm.
“I was sitting in the audience next to Solidjake, watching the match. When the 323 pause happened, I ran backstage to the observer desk,” said Zoia. “The keyboard had fallen off the desk, which caused an error that locked the mouse to the center of the screen and prevented the camera from panning.”
The error was due to a bug that was phased out in a later patch. Bear in mind that this event was being hosted just a few short months after Heroes of the Storm was officially released.
“I had experienced the bug several times myself when casting/doing other events. The only fix was to restart the client. Once the client was loaded back up, the other observers, including Miwa, couldn’t figure out how to un-pause the game from the backup observer desk. They had accidently opened a chat window, which was preventing the un-pause key from registering. I closed that chat window and everything was squared away. I stayed backstage for the remainder of the day.”
“I saved the day; I'm Superman,” he added.
The “Miwa” to whom he is referring to is Jiwoon "Miwa" Yang, a career observer. Miwa has attended nearly every Heroes esports event on North American soil. He is intimately familiar with the players, teams, and the game itself. The Americas Championship was his first major observing job. Despite the unfortunate pause, he still does observer work to this day. He caught up with us to reflect on the events of that legendary evening in Vegas before starting his shift on Heroes of the Dorm 2017.
“It wasn’t me who was observing the Cloud 9 vs COG series at Vegas; I was the backup observer who helps the main observer. I helped with spotting actions on the mini-map, as well as helping the casters by hovering over the talents on screen so that they could describe correctly what each does. The technology for the casters to do that by themselves wasn't available back then.”
What had happened in the chaos of the moment was a simple mistake that anyone could’ve made.
“Right here Babael mentions Jaina's level-16 talent choice. Back then her E (Cone of Cold) had two talents with the same artwork. So, I was trying to help him out by hovering over the talent icon, but in the process of doing so, I knocked over the main observer's keyboard on to the floor, which was behind the secondary observer's monitor, and at the edge of a busy table. Retrospectively thinking, it was a stupid place for the keyboard to be at really.”
The pause lasted for a good ten minutes. All but beaten, Cloud9 took this time to regain their bearings and wake up a little.
“We knew we had the weaker early game and we expected to be behind, but it was getting sketchy,” remembers Derek "Dunktrain" Arabian, then captain of Cloud9. “We were close to the breaking point where we actually might lose the game. Cognitive had a lot of pressure on us, and with one more mistake they could have probably gone core.”
In the moment, Dunktrain knew something odd had to be going on backstage. “We were slightly confused, because pauses from production without either team's request are very rare. We took the moment to calm down, because a lot of the mistakes we were making that game were just sloppy. We had just hit our power spike. We could win fights at that point and we knew it. We decided exactly what to do after the pause.”
They talked about where the breakdown in communication was, and how they could rally together to win the battleground. “It was crazy; we discussed what we would do, exactly how they would react, and how we’d follow up on it. We baited a team fight right where we wanted it, and they didn’t play around it correctly. Their momentum fell apart.”
Ultimately, Cloud9 won that game on Tomb of the Spider Queen, as well as the next. Cognitive was eliminated, and their hopes at attending BlizzCon 2015 were extinguished.
Would they have beaten Cloud9 in a best-of-three? Past results say no. And while they were eliminated from the event, former Cognitive players have gone on to achieve great things with other teams. Melee assassin Mike "Glaurung" Fisk went on to compete at BlizzCon 2016 with the core of Cloud9 as Denial eSports, and support player Jeffery “Iakona” Dolan now plays for Superstars, a North American HGC team now firmly holding onto their spot in the HGC.
They didn’t lose their housing, and in fact went on to compete at more regional LAN events before parting ways with the organization, which ultimately closed its doors at the end of 2016.
If you witness a pause in competitive Heroes of the Storm and see folks spamming “323” in the chat, now you know the emotional roller coaster to which they are referring.